A blogal citizen

A blogal citizen

: I like to call this new medium of ours citizens’ media. “Citizen” connotes belonging and that is why I like the word as a substitute for the old-fashioned, one-way notions of readers, viewers, listeners, consumers. Citizens belong. Citizens join. Citizens own. Citizens act.

So I ask myself: Citizen of where? Citizen of what?

A personal irony is that after September 11th, I began to think of myself more as an American citizen than I ever had. It’s not that I didn’t have pride in the land of my birth before, but it was passive and I was wary of the dangers of putting nation over humanity. But once I was attacked because I was American, I found new belonging, new pride, new resolve. I hang a flag on my lapel and my front fence as a matter of defiance.

At the same time, I started blogging and I came to more new answers to the question, citizen of where? This new medium has, at once, made me feel more local and more global. There are neighbors in town I rarely get to speak with who read and sometimes comment on this blog. And, of course, I’ve had the privilege of building some bridges to other countries and of crossing the bridges others have built. It was honestly thrilling at Harvard to meet the people on the other sides of those spans: Hoder from Iran, Omar and Mohammed from Iraq, Jeff from Maylasia… I hope at the next one, I get to meet more from Germany, Russia, eastern Europe, Asia….

But before I start talking like a citizen of the globe, I have to answer the next question: Citizen of what? In meeting all those good people and joining with them was I truly acting like a global citizen or simply like a blogal citizen? (And, yes, I do enjoy the anagrammatic fun of that.) Which community mattered more? Was one community possible only because of the other? This is not just about blogging as a special interest. This is about feeling a sense of citizenship — belonging, power, responsibility — in blogs as a result of the world and in the world as a result of blogs. The internet (and blogs) make that possible.

: As I continued to mull the importance and impact of last week’s Harvard session, I read Timothy Garton Ash in Friday’s Times practically declare the death of the nation-state:

Why is it that Americans do not understand the power of the European Union? Is it because they are simply not well informed by reports from Brussels and other European capitals? Or is it because, as citizens of the world’s last truly sovereign nation-state, Americans – and especially American conservatives – find it difficult to acknowledge the contribution of a transnational organization based on supranational law? It’s as if they can conceive of power only in the old-fashioned terms of a classical nation-state.

Old-fashioned? The world’s last sovereign nation-state? I think Ash is getting a bit ahead of his times … but perhaps not too far ahead.

Garton Ash isn’t completely off: New means of creating alliances — nation to nation, or person to person without regard to nationality — mean that the the nation-state as the globe’s organizing principle begins to fade, perhaps. And our own sense of citizenship — and our relationship to other citizens — broadens to include more people, more places, and more dimensions.

Some will say that this ability to find people of like minds and goals will create “echo chambers.” The corollary in media is the complaint that more choice creates “fragmentation.” These people see these as bad things.

I don’t. I see them as positive developments. More choice in media equals more control for citizens. More communication, information, and conversation across boundaries and interests online equals more connections among citizens and a greater connection for each citizen to a broader (and, at the same time, more local) world.

That is what I witnessed and experienced last weekend at Harvard and before. That is why I am so excited — and optimistic — about these bridges and the effort to expand the tools that build those bridges to anyone and everyone in the world.

Then we can move one step beyond Garton Ash’s premature prediction: Nations won’t be sovereign. Citizens will be.

Is it premature for me, too, to predict all this? Of course, it is. But a blogger can hope, can’t he? And are there dangers? Of course, there are. But I have to trust my fellow citizens — of wherever and whatever — to use these tools of speech and freedom, in the end, for good.

If this works, we don’t just change the world. We redefine the world.

: As Jay Rosen would say, here is some after matter:

: See Jay’s wonderful post about all this, including links to Olav Anders

  • chuck

    Nations won’t be sovereign. Citizens will be.
    So who collects and spends the taxes? That’s the bottom line.

  • Thanks, Jeff. I was hoping you’d write something like this about identity.
    I want to add one thing. You speak of creating alliances and communication “nation to nation, or person to person without regard to nationality.” The Arab blogging tool, it seems to me, is a case of polity-to-polity exchange (or civil society to civil society) which a different thing from state-to-state or person-to-person. Different, and possibly more potent.

  • Tim

    I’m skeptical about the premise. I wonder whether blogging is a community or an association?
    Is the journalistic community, the “tribe”, made up of journalism’s citizens or practitioners that have an association. Perhaps it might even be formalized, such as the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the International Tobacco Growers’ Association?
    Not that they are necessarily exclusionary in form or function:

    The United Nations is the pre-eminent trade association for people involved in the business of government power. Actually, it is more focused than that. The United Nations is the trade association for the world’s executive branches — the place where executive branches come together to promote their individual interests to one another, and to promote the expansion of executive authority in general. This point is often missed by UN critics who dismiss the organization as nothing more than the world’s greatest debating society. These critics confuse being voluntary with being powerless. Organizations like The American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, the International Tobacco Growers’ Association are all voluntary — but certainly not powerless.

    Once it is understood that the United Nations is a trade association for the promotion of executive authority, its behavior becomes almost rational. The trade association extends professional courtesy to its members — its cardinal rule is not to step on the toes of another executive.

    The United Nations may be thought to be made up of worldly citizens, or trade reps of nation states.

  • Tim Gannon

    Compare your post with the idea of individual “natural rights” so many people are against.
    The Declaration of Independence, US Constitution and Bill of Rights did as well as they could in addressing that notion. That is a reason so many “liberals” fear Justice Thomas. He believes in these rights as belonging to the individual not a group. He has unique experiences to support his thinking.